New Zealand government moves to sell 20 per cent in national airline

WELLINGTON, New Zealand – New Zealand’s government is selling a 20 per cent stake in the national airline as part of a contentious asset sales policy.

The country’s stock exchange placed a trading halt Monday on Air New Zealand shares after the government said it plans to reduce its stake in the carrier from 73 per cent to 53 per cent.

At recent prices, the sale would be worth 363 million New Zealand dollars ($302 million).

The announcement was expected under a contentious program of asset sales by New Zealand’s centre-right government. Already this year it has sold minority stakes in two state-owned power companies, raising NZ$3.6 billion.

The government says the sales will help it reduce public debt and enable it to spend more on infrastructure including schools, hospitals and roads.

Opponents say the program is unnecessary and ideologically driven.

Air New Zealand was government owned before 1989. It was sold to private investors under a previous program of state asset sales but returned to majority government ownership in 2002 after its disastrous investment in Australian airline Ansett forced the government to bail it out.

The airline has performed better than many others since the 2008 global economic crisis. This year its after-tax profit more than doubled to NZ$182 million on revenue of NZ$4.6 billion.